In the open, blue skies of Raton, N.M., Al Foust, of Montoursville, picked up his 30/30 Winchester Model 94 Texas Lone Star lever-action rifle.
He fired 10 shots at metal silhouettes of chickens, turkeys, pigs and rams at the Whittington Center shooting range.
After two days and 80 rounds at distances of 50 to 100 meters, Foust was proclaimed the NRA Cowboy Lever Action Silhouette Rifle National Champion. His score was a 70 out of 80, during the July 10-11 event.
The National Rifle Association's shooting competition offers a wide range of activities for skilled shooters in novice to world-class categories.
More than 10,000 sanctioned tournaments are held each year, and 50 national championships are sponsored throughout the year.
This year, 160 people were vying for the championship in the same category as Foust.
Foust has competed many times at both state and national levels but never won a national championship - until now.
"I have placed pretty high, but this is the first time I have won a championship," he said.
He won state championships for the same category of shooting in 2006 and 2009.
This year was different. Last year, just after the competition ended, he had the first of two surgeries to have his knees replaced. One was done in July and the next in October.
At competitions, the firing line is about 250 yards from the target. Shooters have to walk back and forth all day long.
The repetition was getting rough and wearing down Foust's bad knees.
"The last four years, I was whooped," he said.
The standing was getting hard, too. If a competitor doesn't have a good, strong stance, it can affect his or her shooting.
"If you don't have your legs under you, it really makes it hard," he said.
Now it's all different.
"I use the phrase, 'They gave me my life back,' " he said.
He doesn't just mean during the shooting competitions. Foust also is a sportsman and enjoys hunting. His ability to get around out in the woods has drastically improved, too.
Winning a championship is special for Foust, "for all I have been through," he said.
He is a two-time cancer survivor.
"This keeps me going. I am healed, I am better," he said.
He attributes shooting with keeping him focused through all his ordeals.
Foust can't express how thankful he feels for the skills of Dr. Matthew Reich, his orthopedic surgeon, and his staff.
When he got back from the competition, carrying a championship trophy, he shook a lot of hands, which meant a lot to him.
"The people I compete with on a weekly basis were really excited," Foust said. "I wished they all could have been there with me."
Getting in the zone
Thirty years ago, Foust got involved with metallic silhouette shooting. Now 60 years old, he is a master class shooter and at the top of his game. He has since switched over to the cowboy action style of shooting.
Foust also is the shooting match director at the Lycoming County Consolidated Sportsmen.
Aside from organizing that, he does squeeze in time for shooting and practicing.
This type of competition shooting is done with all open sights, making it much challenging.
"It's pure shooting skill, which is not based on the weapon like some of the other disciplines," he said.
Mentally preparing is a big part of competitions, Foust said.
"You have to be able to get in that zone, like any other competition sport," he said. "You just block out everything but what you are doing."
Foust loads his own rounds. This particular time, he used 125-grain bullets for the chickens and pigs and 170-grain for the turkeys and rams.
"You can't just shoot some pipsqueak load at them or you won't knock them down," Foust said.
Foust used a rifle he has had for about a year. He says there is no sense changing it.
"You find what you like and that is what you stay with," he said. "I like the way it fits me and it has a nice trigger on it."
Foust also placed high senior in his competition.
He entered team competition in the same match with Derek Greenaway, of Howard, and Randy Ent, of Warren. They scored the highest, 205 of 240, and took the team title.
Greenway won the national championship in the Pistol Cartridge Lever Action, with a score of 73 out of 80. He also took the three-gun aggregate national championship with a score of 207 out of 240.
Foust won a rifle, a $400 Visa card and trophies in his competitions.